Category Archives: Planning

Software as a Service (SaaS) Products/Companies

During the process of building out my first software as a service product (Brain Bank), I’ve looked at a large number of other companies that offer their software as a service.

It took me a while to find & bookmark these companies so I figured I’d share them… organized by categories they are closest to. This is not a comprehensive list. It isn’t meant to be a directory.

It’s more to give people perspective on what is out there, how people are pricing their apps, how they software looks & feels, etc. Some are examples to follow. Others are examples of what not to do.

PS: If I’m missing someone you need needs to be on this list, please leave a comment and I’ll update the list.

PS2: Some don’t completely fit into their category because it was probably narrowly focused or fit into multiple categories. I made the call on where to put it. Deal with it. 😀

PS3: Expect another blog post later today with a status update on BrainBank later today.


Projects / Plans / Collaboration

Groups / Social Networks

CRM / Contact Manager / Sales Pipeline / Proposals

Backup / Doc Sharing




Learning Management Systems


Forms / Application Development

Appointment Setting

Web Site Creation / Ecommerce


Time tracking


Bug tracking

Customer Feedback / Survey

Comments Anti-Spam


Narrow Focus


Day 1: Action Plan

The problem I have decided to focus on is Bite-Size Chemistry Lesson in my RSS Reader because it’s the one that I will need to use almost daily for the next 3 to 5 years in my quest to becoming a medical doctor. It also has good commercial applications and was also most recommended in the feedback I’ve received on my blog, friends and business mentors.

Today is Wednesday, day 1 of my 12 day experiment.

Quiet a few successful people preach the “ready, fire, aim” approach… where you jump in asap to get a feel for unknowns quickly. I don’t work that way most of the time. I need to figure out what I’m going to before I do it… at least at a general level. So that is where I started today.

My plan of action

In my BaseCamp account, I created a new project called Mini Lessons, in which I created a few to-do lists:

  • Technical Ingredients for 1.0 – technical know-how that I need to learn such as how to send emails from inside a Ruby on Rails app
  • Learner Feature Set for 1.0 – limited to 2 features right now (subscribing via email or rss to a course)
  • System & Admin Feature Set for 1.0 – the underlying fundementals that need to be in place for a working site, such as subscription billing, user accounts, etc
  • Author Feature Set for 1.0 – Limited to 1 feature (WYSIWIG for entering text & pictures and embedding videos & slides.)
  • Decisions to make for 1.0 – such as App name, whether to pay for SaaS Rails Kit or write code myself, etc
  • Future Features for Authors – list of features I won’t be building right now (to keep myself disciplined and focused)
  • Future Features for Learners – same as above

A Confession…

After I realized that not knowing how to process CSV data files (similar to Excel file but with no formatting) was going to be a limiting factor in my decisions (this one and maybe future decisions), I got an undying itch to conquer this terrain. I spent about 3 hours doing that today and with the help of the awesome Ruby on Rails community, I was able to kick some CSV ass. I’m counting the 3 hrs as play-time and so it won’t count against my 48 hours. 😛

Which Problem Should I Solve?

Hi, My Name is Mel…

Until Dec 2007, I ran a web design company called Volcanic Marketing. Mid-2007, I had a few life changing epiphanies, one of which got me going down the road to med school. I changed a lot of things in Volcanic, including cutting out design services (I am wrapping up my last website on Tuesday) and building partner/reseller relationships with companies that created marketing software that I liked & used (which is all I offer my clients today.)

So what’s the deal with this 48-hour launch?

While studying for my upcoming chemistry final, I had an idea for an experiment. I want to see if I can create and launch a marketing software (offered as a service) in 48 hours or less. 12 days x 4-hr sessions = 48 hrs. Why 48 hours? To force myself to solve only a small problem with a simple solution. Another reason is because I will be taking summer classes (Biology & Physics) so I don’t have much time. And according to David Heinemeier Hansson, this is a good thing.

In watching a lot of the videos from the StartUp School, one thing that I heard over and over was to focus on a problem. And this brings me to the first main decision I need to make about my 48-hr experiment:

What problem should I solve… can I solve in 48 hours?

I’ve got three problems that I’ve been thinking about.

  • Constant Contact Report + History – CC is great at delivering emails into the inbox but their reports suck and I find it very frustrating that I loose all information about my campaigns after 90-days. Storage is cheap! WTF Constant Contact!?!?

Solution: CC allows it’s users to download a CSV (data) file of each campaign, so I could build an app that proccessed these data files a spit out useful reports… and it could save the data forever so I could look-up Joe Smith and see all the emails I’ve sent them in the last 5-yrs.

  • Chemistry in Bite-Size Chunks in my RSS – Some days I waste too much time in my RSS reader. Yesterday was one of those days. It’s like the 7-11 slogan: “Too much good stuff!” After 30-minutes of browsing through stuff I won’t need in the near future, I thought “I wish my chemistry book/course was delivered to me in tiny-bites, every day in this RSS reader.” And then I remembered reading a statistic that 80-90% of people who buy books, don’t read past chapter 2. I see a problem with that. Also, I remembered that when was learning Ruby on Rails, I noticed that a remarkable amount of information was available online but they were all over the place with no structure for learning it. I didn’t even know where to start.

Solution: A app that allows people to create small lessons that are delivered over time (daily, weekly, etc) via RSS, email or a website could solve this problem.

I could see people charging others for a “Learn Ruby on Rails in 60-Days” or “Learn Chem 1A Concepts in 90-Days” course. Other courses could be free, created using stuff already available online.

It would also be good for retaining info. Last semester, I took an Anatomy & Physiology class. A lot of material was covered and I could probably remember most of it back if I refreshed my memory. What if I could subscribe to a course that did just that. It kept my memory fresh on the concepts of Anatomy & Physiology.

  • Marketing Planner – Over 90% of companies I’ve met use either Word or Excel + a Calendar to plan out their marketing activities. This is a particularly unproductive way planning out marketing. What usually happens is that once the document is created, it becomes a reference guide instead of something that people interactive with. It’s usually not updated or changed.

Solution: BaseCamp is a great way to manage projects. If there was a app BaseCamp-like app, focused on marketing planning … so it came preloaded with templates for common marketing activities, it would make my life and my clients life much easier. This could be very useful for marketing consultants.

All three problems have the following in common:

  • They are all my problems.
  • All can be monetized by having a subscription-plan.
  • All can have a free version that offers some features and encourages people to upgrade for a few extra killer features.

So I have to decide on which ONE of these I want to do during my “48-hr launch” experiment. Here’s how I see the pro’s & con’s of each problem:

  • CC Reports & History:
    • Pro: user base is already established
    • Pro: Community website for reaching user base is relatively active
    • Pro: CSV files are easily downloadable by users so training won’t be a pain in the ass
    • Con: An update from CC could render my app obsolete.
    • Con: Users could be happy with CC just the way it is. Maybe they don’t care about reports that can help you figure out when the right time to send your email is… or they don’t care that the history is lost after 90 days.
    • Con: I don’t know how to process CSV files in Ruby on Rails just yet. This means I could spent the entire 48 hrs learning how to do this and end up with no application.
    • Con: There is at least one email marketing software that offers usable reports much better than Constant Contact (even though their deliver rate is not as good.)
  • Mini Lessons
    • Pro: Big potential.
    • Pro: I know how to do most of it. I’ll just need to refresh my knowledge of Ruby on Rails.
    • Pro: Rails allows me to deliver content in RSS, email & other formats with little extra work. Which means development time of delivering to new formats (ie. iGoogle widget, MyYahoo, etc) won’t take a lot of time.
    • Pro: It could help content authors make money… which means they’ll be willing to pay money.
    • Con: Might not be accepted by content authors.
  • Marketing Planner
    • Pro: I can create the project templates using my knowledge as well as many other marketing experts I know.
    • Pro: Co-branded versions can be created in the future focused on specific marketing methodologies… such as Guerilla Marketing.
    • Con: Feels like a big app and might not get completed in 48 hrs.
    • Con: Might be considered a copy of BaseCamp… which would be a legitimate accusation. This software is definitely inspired by BaseCamp to an extend.

I have to make a decision by Tuesday afternoon on which road I am going down (since that is when all my finals will be wrapped up) so let me ask you:

Which problem should I solve?

PS: I will be actively blogging my progress. Come back often (or add me to your RSS reader) to keep track of what’s happening.